The EFC’s annual InterGen is a great way to share what the latest Encampers are learning. It brings together alums, parents and supporters of different ages and backgrounds from all over the country — and beyond — for several hours of thought-provoking, creative and interactive programming. In the past, InterGens took place over a three-day weekend but due to the pandemic, we have adapted to a shorter Zoom format.
Our keynote speaker this year was Dr. Safiya Omari, chief of staff for Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, MS. She shared the story of the “great experiment” in participatory government in Jackson and its many challenges. She reflected on Mayor Lumumba’s promise to be the most radical mayor in the country: “When you have problems as severe as ours, you need some radical solutions … you need government that is geared toward addressing the needs of your residents, as well as government that is geared toward building institutions, not reforming institutions, that actually work for people. We haven’t been able to be as radical as we would like to be, primarily because the basic everyday issues of being able to provide clean water… address a sewage system that has been systematically neglected for decades … 25% of the residents live in food deserts … The community is constantly bombarded with the problems that come from systematic oppression and discrimination… When you are faced with those basic problems, it becomes very hard to deal with the more creative, idealistic ideas of what government should be … you have to improve the ability of the city to serve the basic needs of its residents — what we call ‘servant leadership’ so they have the quality of life that every human being deserves.”
Dr. Omari talked about building a “dignity economy” where every person has the human right of being treated with dignity and respect. “We are trying to improve the quality of life through education, living wage jobs, neighborhoods and housing that are safe; access to clean water…. And we are committed to educating residents in the importance of participating in their government … We encourage residents to build in conjunction with the community, to be informed upfront and involved. We have peoples’ assemblies … We go to them when we have issues that we need discussed, like budgets, policy decisions and prioritizing … What’s radical about what we are doing is we are trying to insert people back into the government.”
Maribel, 2021 Encamper: How are youth included in your community and in making change?
Dr. Omari: “We engage with youth on several different levels. We have the Mayor’s Youth Council, where we engage with them about issues that directly affect youth. We ask them to come up with policy or solutions for some of the issues. For instance, recently in March/April, we were opening up after the pandemic and we had a lot of teens being killed through gun violence, so we met with our Youth Council. The knee-jerk reaction is ‘Okay, let’s do a curfew,’ but we thought maybe we need to talk to the people who are most closely impacted by this spate of gun violence … Surprisingly, they agreed. They felt that a curfew would make them feel safer as long as we had provisions for them to work and come home …” She also mentioned the Millennial Council for older youth and a new program to divert young people from the juvenile justice system into working for the city, educating them about alternatives and giving them resources, including a paycheck. These are in addition to established programs like Parks and Recreation.
Carter, 2020-21 Encamper: It’s super-amazing how you engage the youth in discussions with the government. What you said shows that there isn’t one objective view of what a community needs — there are different sides to each story; many different struggles for each individual. I liked what you said about if someone is hungry in class, how are they supposed to focus, so that also has to impact the community. It brings up the question, does a community focus on one goal or do they split it up into multiple different sections? It’s a different way to view how communities work.
Dr. Omari said that she grew up in a very close-knit community (Shreveport, LA) among people from diverse backgrounds. “They were all Black, of course, because it was the segregated South, but there were all these different backgrounds and perspectives. It had a solid Black middle class. In many communities in urban areas today, like we see in Jackson, we have some very solid communities. They are community improvement districts and they have nonprofits and boards, and they work to make their communities look the way they want them to look. Then we have communities that have disintegrated due to Black middle-class flight. Where we used to have teachers and police officers and social workers living side by side with the mechanic — when people could move into more stable communities, they did. Those who are left behind aren’t left with very much to work with — not even a vision of what community should look like … People have to have a sense of place to feel like there’s something they can invest in … We help them try to create what they see as a sense of place. We don’t tell them what that sense of place should be. We go in to co-create with them what they would like to see.”
EFC board co-chair Evelin Aquino explained that, in the breakout sessions, Encampers would guide the conversations about community in the intergenerational groups, using questions they defined. Some of the questions and thoughts reported from these powerful conversations are:
- How can we heal our communities?
- How can people from different generations work together to make change?
- What is the role of elders in healing communities?
- What really divides generations?
- Technology has created a divide that makes engaging with different generations difficult.
- Is it possible to move on from the past in your community?
- People have to work together.
- Painful experiences in Primarily White Institutions
- Different experiences of connecting intergenerationally.
- Difficult times often break down barriers and get people to connect.
- Technology can disconnect you from what’s around you.
- Accepting the community’s quirks can bring people together, even though they are from different generations.
- What it takes to connect intergenerationally: respect, really listening, having an open mind, being willing to listen across the barriers that are real.
Jane Sapp closed the session with an a cappella performance of “There’s a Bright Sun Somewhere.”
On Saturday, board member Steve Davis kicked off the first session with co-host 2021 Encamper Piper S.
Program director Jesus Salcido Chavarria reviewed how the Encampers had created community maps in a multi-step process that explored community in different ways, which included sharing with their fellow Encampers and defining the issues they would like to address in the follow-up program this fall. He shared the definition this year’s Encampers have for community: “A group of people who, even without common struggles, respect each other, have empathy, trust each other and co-exist; knowing that everyone needs to work together.”
“Each Encamper shared something that reflected her/his own culture and community. They interviewed another Encamper about their communities and shared what they learned with the group. [To learn more, click on link Week One.] We talked about the role of community in making change and had a heated debate about whether it’s possible to work with someone who has different viewpoints from you. [Week Two] We asked questions: How do you engage your community? Who are the players in your community that you want to interview? To gain more understanding of what are the problems, include the opinions of others, and get a more rounded approach to how they see their communities, they did some interviews in their communities after practicing with each other. We also did a power analysis (Who holds the power? Who is responsible?) [Week Three] that went into their community maps. The community maps they created will lead to their action plans in the follow-up program to make social change, however big or small.”
Participants divided into breakout groups and learned about the very different geographic environments that the young people come from, and different types of communities (identity- or topic-related) from the community maps and the discussions. One older EFC alum commented: “It’s great that 2021 Encampers can connect through the follow-up program and EFC network to get help as they take their steps to make change.”
Jesus led off the last session with a rousing rap he composed — several Encampers noted that his willingness to share his creativity had inspired them to experiment with spoken-word pieces for their own presentations. The presentations demonstrated in creative forms what the Encampers explored in the Summer Intensive. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to see the Community Map presentations.
In response to a question from a parent about “how to keep the juices flowing [after the intensive],” education director, Michael Carter referred to the four-month follow-up program: “This is only the beginning … we have changed our approach. What we have learned over the years is that the young people who left the summer program didn’t have the tools to navigate their action plans within their communities, so we changed the focus [of the summer program] to learning more about your community … [The focus is] learning about community, understanding community as the center of all social justice, so that, as they move forward and begin to dive into those action plans, they can use what they have learned about building community and how to engage community to navigate as activists in those communities.”
Michael added that the Encampment supports their efforts as they turn theory into practice with the “ups and downs” that come with that process so they do not become too discouraged.
Executive director Margot Gibney spoke about how inspired she is by the 2021 Encampers. “It’s a daunting task to take on another Zoom activity, but you showed up and you did it! You brought all of yourselves and your passion … I appreciate each of you and that’s what makes me hopeful about our today and our future
“Look around at the [Zoom] squares — there’s a lot of power in these squares. This is community; this is our power. That’s what we are building now. Rather than being simply a summer program, we’re pulling on the community of alums and other people who have been involved with the Encampment over the years to create an international community of people of all ages to support the ongoing social justice work of the young people, and the technology is helping. Alums have been meeting in [virtual] groups over the summer and they are inspired by the possibility of being there to support 2021 Encampers, and beyond, and each other. This is where our future lies — working together. We have so much to learn from each other … expertise, knowledge, inspiration, wisdom, energy – the power of community; it’s all right here!”
“Thank you so much for including us in this final weekend. Your projects were wonderful. I am especially touched by the warmth and sense of connection you all share. Wonderful program. Glad we were able to join you by Zoom, without which we couldn’t be a part of it. Thanks to all.” — Tim Snowber, parent 2021
“It is the most immediate way to know what youth are dealing with in their school & community; It comes out in their reporting, words, song & art.” — Roni King, 71MT alum
“Enlivens me about the future. This year was really good on zoom! Thanks!”— Charlie Spiegel, EFC supporter
Join us for our 75th Anniversary Celebration, 2–3:30 p.m. Pacific [3-4:30 Central/4-5:30 Central/5-6:30 Eastern], October 16, 2021, via Zoom. Our special guest will be Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, an EFC alum from 1957. We’ll share alums’ memories of their EFC experiences, some songs composed and performed at the Encampment, and more.
Feeling inspired by the 2021 Encampment? There’s still a little time to participate in our 75th Anniversary Program and Tribute Flipbook. You can honor someone(s) who inspires you and support the Encampment in a fun, creative project that demonstrates the EFC’s legacy of building community.
Continuing thanks to our stalwart copyeditor, Ruth Thaler-Carter, EFC alum 1970 New York. Any errors were made after her edits.